New Random Story Generators

So, using my very limited HTML programming skills, I’ve put together not one, but two random generators for writers who are looking for a little inspiration to use.

The Random Scene Generator gives you a pair of people who are naturally in opposition to each other and a verb which defines the scene they’re in. I wrote this a number of years ago for use by my scriptwriting students as part of an assignment they do, but naturally anyone can use it. This is especially good for generating ideas for short one act plays or films.

The Random Action Adventure Plot Generator gives you a full 18 point plot outline for an action adventure novel, script, or other story. It is based on the Quintessential Basic Plot Outline by Dixon Kinquade and works surprisingly well. You could easily use it to generate a fast outline for a pulp adventure novel, spy novel, or action film.

Enjoy!

Rob

Review of the new SJW900 App!

Nailed it! Warning- Lots of swearing.

Voice Dream Reader

I always look for ways to improve my reading speed for books, and recently I came across the iOS app called Voice Dream Reader. It was a little expensive for an app, being $12, but it had glowing reviews and it sounded like what I was looking for, so I purchased it to give it a go.

To say that I was impressed is an understatement. Simply put, Voice Dream Reader is a fantastic program for reading on your iPhone or iPad which reads pretty much everything except Mobi (Amazon Kindle) files. But that isn’t the most important part! It’s real shining area is that it’s an amazing Text to Speech reader that turns any book into an audiobook being read by any of 100 different voices in 20 languages, with more high-quality synthetic voices being added all the time.

So now, I can read something, and then just switch to having it read to me as I go out to walk the dogs or run errands, and all without having to buy an expensive audiobook or worry about losing my place. It also syncs nicely with Dropbox or Google Drive for getting books onto the App with ease.

Awesome!

I’ve already used it to power through one book in record time, and plan to keep using it to help get through my Summer reading.

That said, I should note two things:

1) While the default voice “Heather” is comes with is really good, there are better voices in their catalog, but you have to pay between $2-$5 for each extra voice. The one that most impressed me was “Will”, which almost sounded like a real person.

2) These are still synthetic voices, and there is no comparison between them and the performance from a real audiobook reader. While synthetic voice technology has clearly made huge gains, a real reader brings the book more to life with things like inflection and tone changes that indicate different characters are speaking. Voice Dream doesn’t do that, but it still makes for a pretty good listening experience once you get used to it.

 

TyranoBuilder- Visual Novel creation made simple

I’ve always been interested in visual novels as an art form, to me they’re the idea of Choose Your Own Adventure stories taken to the next level. I also love the sheer democratic nature of them, not only in the choices you can make, but also the fact they’re so easy to make. At least, they are in theory, and software like Ren’py, Novelty, and now TyranoBuilder have been working to make that into a reality.

TyranoBuilder is a “new” (in English) piece of software for graphically building visual novels that’s just been released (on STEAM for $16.99). It lets you make visual novels that you can then sell royalty free as phone apps and on various online stores. It looks pretty cool, and after reading through the tutorial documentation (which I highly recommend reading before you try playing with it) I’d say it’s one of the slickest methods for making visual novels I’ve ever seen.

Scenes are built on a timeline based dragging and dropping various elements into play, which makes it dead simple to put a scene together. Graphics, music, dialogue and other elements can be easily assembled in any way you choose, and then you can branch those scenes off into other scenes which allow the reader to control the flow of the story in any way you see fit.

Tyranobuildertimeline

And while people think of visual novels as being linked to anime, remember that visual novels don’t have to be in an anime style. While it’s certainly the most popular style, I’ve seen them used with pencil sketches and even heard of people using pictures of themselves and their family as the characters in stories! You could also use free 3-D character software like DAZ Studio to generate characters of your own, or some other character building software like Heromachine and use them as part of a visual novel story.

If you’re interested, here is a page of story/planning resources for Ren’py (another visual novel maker, and the biggest player before Tyrano Builder’s release). That resource page, under software, includes a number of pieces of flow-charting software like Chatmapper which could be used to script/plan a branching visual novel story pretty well. And, here is a collection of free backgrounds and character (sprites) for use with Ren’py or Tyrannobuilder:

Visual novels seem to be having a bit of resurgence recently, likely because of services like STEAM and the Apple/Android app stores making them easy to actually sell and distribute as content. Heck, technically even stories like the critically acclaimed Walking Dead “game” are really just a form of visual novel, just with much more playability and advanced graphics. As a result, many different types have popped up, from Space Opera like Sunrider to deep Historical pieces like The Rainy Port Keelung.

If I had the time, I’d probably do a little visual novel making myself! Looks pretty fun and easy!

Enjoy!

Rob

FORCEdraft

Forcedraft

A while back, I blogged about WRITE or DIE!, which is a devilish little productivity tool designed to counter writer’s block by making noises, showing horrible images, or even erasing your text if you stop writing. I used it for a while, and I have to admit it works pretty well, but what if you’re someone who prefers to write at a slightly more leisurely pace or just needs a little freedom from distraction? Not everyone is suitable for the breakneck production speeds Write or Die! encourages.

Well, for you, there’s FORCEdraft– which as it says above is literally a program that won’t quit until you’ve reached your goals, and which will lockdown and block access to your entire PC until you reach those goals (or tell it to quit, if you wussed out and used that option). I actually stumbled across it a while ago and downloaded it, but it wasn’t until recently that I started to use it- and boy am I glad I did!

FORCEdraft lets you set a time goal or word-count goal, and keeps everything from distracting you until you reach that goal. Even if you change your mind- too bad! Once it’s running, nothing short of turning off your computer will stop it. I discovered this when I did a test run and realized that it doesn’t automatically stop when you reach your goal, and I didn’t know how to turn it off. I tried every single trick I could think of and the darn thing wouldn’t let me stop it! (In the end, I discovered by accident that you turn it off by clicking on the logo at the top of the screen and then it will save and exit. And it’s saving constantly, so if there was a crash your work would be fine.)

Since that first trying experience, I began using the program and came to like it so much that I added it to my startup programs so it comes on when it boot up my PC. (In menu mode, not writing mode- I’m not that hardcore! Having to write 500 or more words to get access to my PC would be good for productivity, though!) I’ve found I liked it so much I actually donated to the author, and am now using the PRO version which offers a few extra little bells and whistles. (You can change the screen colors, and it has a clock and word counter.)

It would also be great for writers using the Pomodoro Technique, or something similar, as you could set the timer for 25 minutes, do your block, and then set it for the next 25 minute block after you’ve had your break. However, whatever your schedule, I suggest you check it out if you’re looking for something to increase your writing productivity. I love it because I can craft my prose in a stress-free environment, but still know I have goals that I must meet before I can do anything else. (Including check my mail or Facebook!)

Rob

Random Dramatic Scene Generator

I’m feeling rather proud at the moment. I managed to code a simple webpage that generates a pair of naturally conflicting characters and an action verb which defines their relationship in that scene, in other words a Random Dramatic Scene Generator.

Of course, by “code” I mean I found an already existing webpage that did something similar, copied pieces of that code and modified it to suit my own purposes. ^_^ So, coding in the truly classic sense!

In any case, I made this page for use by my students in my scriptwriting class since they need to do short 5-minute dramatic scenes for one of their assignments, and I wanted a random way to give them a starting point in their scenes. Of course, it can be used by anyone who needs a quick dramatic situation for their stories as well.

Enjoy!

Rob

Choose Your Own Adventure 2.0

Back in the days when I was young (many moons ago), and when video games looked like this…

…The closest thing we had to single-player role playing games came in the form of game/books with titles like Fighting Fantasy, TSR’s Endless Quest books, and of course the most famous line of them all- Choose Your Own Adventure. These text-based Gamebooks (with varying amount of accompanying illustrations) had winding story paths that allowed readers to explore stories as they wished and experience what it was like to go on adventures of all kinds. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Post Apocalypse, Superhero- any genre that involved adventure was one they covered in these very popular book series.

Of course, eventually, Computer RPGs and Console RPGs came along, and this type of adventure Gamebook faded from view. That is, until now. Now, some companies have chosen to revive this style of game as Apps for mobile gaming, and Choice of Games is at the forefront of this new take on an old idea.

From their About Us page:

Choice of Games LLC is a California limited-liability company dedicated to producing high-quality, text-based, multiple-choice games. We produce games in house, beginning with Choice of the Dragon and Choice of Broadsides. We have also developed a simple scripting language for writing text-based games, ChoiceScript, which we make available to others for use in their projects, and we host games produced by other designers using ChoiceScript on our website. Some of our games are available for free on the web. We also produce mobile versions of our games that can be played on iPhones, Android phones, and other mobile devices.

We believe that text-based games are an underutilized format within modern computer games. Just as motion pictures, radio dramas, and television supplement books without rendering them obsolete, similarly modern graphic-based games cover only part of the computer gaming landscape. By using text, we can interact with the imagination in different ways from a graphics-based game. We can also allow game designers to quickly and inexpensively produce games in comparison with graphics-based games.

Of course, now these text-adventures can include things like music and other interactive aspects, not just the occasional picture. Bring the experience even more to life, and letting players get immersed in a unique reading experience. They too have quite a variety of genres, and since the games are free to play online (they charge for the mobile app versions) do you…

1) Head over and check Choice of Games out. (click here)

2) Read a little about the history of Gamebooks. (click here)

3) Rediscover the Fighting Fantasy Gamebook line (click here)

 

F.Lux

A little while ago I heard about a program called F.Lux on a podcast I was listening to and decided to check it out, here’s the wikipedia entry about it:

f.lux is a computer program developed by Michael and Lorna Herf. It adjusts a computer display’s color temperature according to its location and time of day, based on a user specified set of longitude and latitude geographical coordinates, a ZIP Code, or a city name.

The program was designed to reduce eye strain during nighttime use and to prevent disruption of normal sleep patterns.

So I downloaded it and after a little adjustment, I have to say I like it. Since I work on my screen a lot after dark, I wanted something that will reduce my eyestrain and f.lux seems to do the trick. I haven’t noticed any particular benefits with my sleep patterns, but that may also be because I found the recommended settings a bit too orange and so I increased the blue factor of my screen a little bit above the default.

Still, I’m pretty happy with it. One warning- if you are doing colour-sensitive work you’ll want to disable f.lux while you’re doing that work because the colours won’t look right. Luckily, that just requires a single click to do, so it’s no big deal.

Rob

 

Skritter for Android

Yesterday, I blogged about the Chinese and Japanese writing study software Skritter, which I know some people are interested in, but turned off by the monthly subscription system they use. Well, good news! Skritter for Android is out and still in beta testing, which among other things means it’s free! So if you have an Android phone you can now be using Skritter to your heart’s content while helping them test the system.

If you want to try it, go here and follow the instructions.

Happy learning!

Rob

Skritter

Hello, my name is Rob, and I’m an iPhone addict. No, I’m not addicted to Farmville, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, or any of the other hyper-addictive Apps that have come out for the iPhone. I managed to avoid all of those handily because I had no interest in wasting my time or money on something so pointless as those tricky games. I admit, I even considered myself better for not falling into those time-sucking traps and laughed quietly to myself at the people who did. But then, I found the most diabolical iPhone App I’ve ever seen, one that is now the first thing I do in the morning, and the last thing I do at night. I have dreams about this App now, and find my fingers twitching in patterns from playing the App. When I’m cooking or doing housework, I think about the App. I even learned how to play one-handed so that I could play with my poor dogs while I play with the App. I am hopelessly and totally addicted. So, what did this App do that none of the others did? How did it burrow so deeply into my brain that I can no longer even keep track of time? Those bastards made it educational! They made it fun to LEARN! God help me, I’m actually learning useful real-world skills, and I’m loving it. So what is this sick App? It’s called Skritter, and it’s a program to help people learn to write Chinese and Japanese. Available originally as a website in 2009, and now for iPhone and iPad as well, Skritter is an extremely advanced piece of Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) similar to Memrise (which I blogged about last week). In fact, it was while I was talking online to other Chinese learners about Memrise that I learned about Skritter and decided to check it out. Like Memrise, Skritter is quizzing you on decks of what are essentially Flashcards in an extremely advanced way that maximizes your chances of remembering the information you learn based on new neural research developments. Unlike Memrise, however, Skritter also includes a physical element where you don’t just have to recognise the Japanese and Chinese words and characters, you have to actually write them out.This really maximizes your chances of learning these characters, and makes it a lot more practical (since you’re developing motor skills for writing) and just plain old fun. Skritter’s iPhone app is lively, with sound effects and other extras to make it more like a game, and instead of learning being boring, you always want to do just one more character or word to see how far you can go. The knowledge that you’re learning real skills while you’re playing what feels like a game really helps push you forward, and maybe that’s why my chart for my first week with Skritter looks like this…

Week One

Week One

Yes, you’re reading that right, as of this screen capture I’d learned 406 characters, in a week, in a little less than 2 hours a day with a retention rate of 88.9%. However, before I toot my own horn too much, I should note that this isn’t my first time studying Chinese, and when you see that big jump between the 9th and the 12th, what you’re seeing is mostly Skritter refreshing me on characters I already knew to some degree. You could say that my real learning started on the 12th at around 370 and continued to the 16th at 406, so I only learned and mastered 36 new Chinese characters in 4 days. Still, not too bad, though. And that’s just characters, it doesn’t include actual words using combinations of those characters. (I learned 160 of those.) I love checking my stats each day to see how far I’ve progressed and testing myself to see what new words have managed to stick into my head. Getting back on the Chinese studying bandwagon was one of my projects for the Summer, and thanks to Skritter it’s now taken a huge leap forward. Now, if you choose to check Skritter out, I have a few recommendations.

  • When you sign up use a Referral Code (here’s mine), it gets you two extra weeks free. For better or worse, Skritter isn’t free, after the first trial week it costs US$8-$15 a month depending on how long you sign up for. That said, the program doesn’t stop working if you stop paying, it only stops adding new characters, so you can keep practising your current lineup for the rest of your life for free if you want, or pay for another month from time to time to add more content and then stop again.
  • My advice is to just do the free one-week trial, then if you like it do a month, and finally if it’s really something you want to invest in then get a longer subscription. View it as a language class you’re signing up for, not like a normal App. This is a life-long investment of time and knowledge. Viewed this way, the price of a single meal at McDonalds isn’t that much.
  • It’s best used on a Tablet Computer, Writing Tablet or Phone, since you want the real hand motion involved and not a mouse so you’re really learning to write the characters. I also recommend getting a Stylus of some kind so that it’s like you’re practising with an actual pen or brush. (You can also make your own stylus, and there are plenty of YouTube videos which will show you how.)
  • Don’t freak out or get intimidated when you see a large backlog of characters waiting to be reviewed. I’ve cleared away as many as 500 items in less than an hour, and if you feel overwhelmed it has various options to slow down the flow so you don’t get swamped.
  • Don’t be afraid to let the App guide you when you meet a new character. (Just tap the middle of the screen for the next stroke.) Yes, it means you don’t know it (duh! it’s new!) but it’s not about scoring points (since there are none), it’s about having the App repeat it often until you do know it, and if it doesn’t know you don’t know it, it can’t give you the right amount of repetition for your memory.
  • You’ll hate tones, we all do, just do your best.
  • You can’t share a Skritter account with another person. It’s customizing itself to your own personal learning patterns and what you know and don’t know. If you try to share it with someone else for any length of time it will mess up your own learning.
  • If you’re going to Taiwan or Hong Kong, then study Traditional Chinese characters, if you’re going to the Mainland, study Simplified. Skritter defaults to Simplified because China itself is the more likely place learners will go. You can also go back and learn Traditional or Simplified later once you’ve mastered one set. (Roughly 20% of the characters are different between the two writing systems.)
  • Skritter is a writing and vocabulary learning system, but they don’t teach grammar or  give you speaking practice (beyond repeating what you hear), you can’t really learn Chinese (or Japanese) just from Skritter, you’ll need other resources like a textbook or classes. However, it does make it easier to focus on grammar when you’re learning if you already know all the vocabulary in your textbook!
  • You can try the iPhone App free for a week through the iTunes App Store without creating an account or using any kind of credit card. (Be warned, any coupons or referrals can only be used when you first create your account!) I’ve heard the Android App is still under development, but you can use the mobile website on Android devices if you have an account.

The future of learning is all about Gamification (making learning into games), and if Skritter is any example, it’s going to be a great time to learn new skills! Now, if you’ll excuse me, my fingers are getting twitchy and I’ve got some Chinese characters calling to me! Rob